I can’t help wondering about the double face of migration in Ethiopia. On one side, Ethiopia is the biggest host of refugees in the African continent and the fifth in the world. On the other side, Ethiopia is a source of illegal migrants to the Middle East, Europe and Southern Africa. These facts seem to stand in opposition.
When the world refugee day was celebrated in Gambella last week, the UNHCR stated that there were 850,000 refugees from neighboring countries residing in Ethiopia. That is about 1 percent of the total population of Ethiopia. For a country like ours that is striving to make ends meet, the strain on the economy of such a sizable population is clear. There are numerous countries around the world that have considerably lower population size than the refugees in Ethiopia.
Hosting a country full of people is going to take significant resources away from Ethiopians for sure. The UNHCR and other stakeholders provide funds to assist the settlement of refugees, but the money needed is never fully provided by donors. Resources that could be used to alleviate the problems of Ethiopians are, therefore, given away to refugees.
Considering the sense of solidarity and brotherhood Ethiopians have had with their neighbors throughout their history, however, the Ethiopian government and the people are glad they can help. Instead of bickering over whether we should take in refugees, like it is customary in the developed world, Ethiopian political parties and the people unanimously agree on the need to stand with our brothers who are having a bad spell in their lives.
Accordingly, Ethiopia provides educational service for refugees. The attendance of schools is thought to provide children and the youth with a sense of return to normalcy. It also keeps them away from wasting their tender years away from education. Even in their hard times, they are provided with the chance to pursue their education and keep working on a better day to come.
The lack of funds, however, negatively weighs on the coverage and quality of education in refugee camps in Ethiopia. A UNICEF report states:
… despite the high number of school aged children in refugee camps (in Ethiopia), access to education within the camps has been extremely low. In the 25 active camps, 59.6% of the 733,312 refugees in Ethiopia are children. In total, 45% of these children fall within the 3-18 school age bracket (305,602), yet, only 128,817 children (35.8% female and 46.4% male) are enrolled in early childhood, primary and secondary levels of education. As of December, 2014, Gross Enrolment Rates (GER) stood at 38.5% for Early Childhood Education (ECD), 51.7% for primary and 7.6% for secondary.
With the numbers showing that there remains a lot before access to education is enjoyed by all refugees who need it, and Ethiopia doing its level best to push things this far, all stakeholders should portray more determination and commitment towards the betterment of existing conditions.
Health services are also provided to refugees. Maternal and child health, control of transmittable diseases, tackling the risk of malaria and other diseases and improving the state of nutrition all require vast health investments. Upgrading the state of health service in refugee camps also calls for more engagement from stakeholders.
More refugees are expected to come this year, especially from South Sudan, as conditions in the youngest country in the world have gotten worse recently. Eritrean refugees also cross into the Ethiopian border on a daily basis. With our brothers fleeing persecution for a whole host of reasons, we Ethiopians would do anything in our capacity to provide them with the rescue they are need of.
It is, however, important that we appreciate the peaceful and stable conditions in our country that have proved to be vital not only to our fellow Ethiopians but to our brothers from neighboring countries as well.
However, the peace and stability in the country along with an every expanding scope of social development does not seem to be promising enough for some Ethiopians. Thousands of Ethiopians dare the deadly trips to Europe, the Middle East and Southern Africa. The remarkable achievements of the last fifteen years have somehow failed to convince some of the increasingly participatory nature of the development in the country.
For all the millions the development took out of poverty, there are millions more still suffering from the vice. There are also those that were somehow marginalized from the development sweeping the country. The other factor might be that the relevant bodies have not done enough to convince the people that their turn to hop on the wagon of prosperity is just around the corner and that they need to wait for their turn patiently.
Despite the fast improving image of Ethiopia in the international system, Ethiopian illegal migrants are being asked to leave Saudi Arabia. Surprisingly enough, most of the Ethiopians have opted to stay put in clear breach of the Saudi directives. After the deadline, the Saudis are most likely to forcefully expel the Ethiopians.
Although it is so sad that our fellow citizens have consciously made such a harsh decision, the situation tells us that we need to work hard to change the attitude of people about the opportunities in their own country. For all those that do not think there are ample opportunities in their own country, the government and other relevant bodies should strive hard to show them clearly of the progress made in empowering people and ridding them of poverty.
The main method of realizing that is through the expansion of employment, loan service and skill upgrading schemes to all corners of the country. People should feel like the system favors the hard working people of the country and punishes rent seekers for them to believe in it and exert their energy towards taking center stage in its further development. It is only then that those who currently find illegal immigration as the only way out of poverty would start to see their own country as a safe sanctuary to work hard and change their lives.
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